Local business men and women meet from very early morning to late at...

Local business men and women meet from very early morning to late at night to forge relationships that will benefit their business. There can be no doubt that networking works and it should always be considered a part of the marketing mix. Good marketing practice dictates that you should have a minimum of 6 routes to market including Advertising, PR, and Email Campaigns etc. SMEs whether start up or otherwise should seriously consider adding Networking into their plans.

The most well known of networking groups is the Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is extremely professional and is different in that as a body it lobbies other influential organisations on the issues effecting business today. Of huge benefit is the range of practical information and guidance given to members including HR, Legal Helpline and particularly assistance to Export.

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The Cambridge Chamber runs over 100 events a year ranging from informal drop ins (non members welcome) to formal safari breakfasts, exhibitions, seminars and social events.

Membership costs vary according to company size but start ups save 50% in year one and can make good use of the tangible benefits including reduced healthcare cover.

Perhaps the most recognised after the Chamber is Business Network International BNI. An American Franchise model recently identified by Wall Street as a top 25 high performing franchise system in the US.

Founded by Ivan Misner it is a profitable organisation founded on and regulated by a formal 90 minute agenda. This agenda includes a 60 second spot where each member presents their business to the Chapter.

BNI now has over 5000 chapters worldwide with 640 in UK and 5 within Cambridge most of which meet weekly at 6.45 am. BNI is a business referral organisation working on the principle that givers gain. If you procure business referrals for others they will reciprocate. BNI is extremely structured and precisely measures it's members attendance, number of referrals, value of business given and ultimately commitment. If you are unable to attend you must provide a substitute and membership is likely to be revoked if you miss more than a few meetings or fail to generate enough referrals. Like several other networking groups BNI only allows one profession per chapter. This is an effective selling tool for new members as it then precludes your competitors joining.

Many BNI members however are extremely longstanding. Membership is sold on the basis that you can add 20 to 30 members to your sales team. Year one membership comes in at 575 plus 30 per month for breakfasts. The commitment needed for weekly meetings, training sessions and measured 121 meetings with other members should not be underestimated. There is no doubt that some members do extremely well, those likely to benefit the most are businesses selling to both domestic and commercial concerns. Top performing categories include printers, builders, accountants, web designers and mortgage advisors.

Outside of the Chamber and BNI there are a range of networking groups all with a degree of specialism and very different styles.

The Business Club, Cambridge Business Breakfast and Business for Breakfast are relatively new franchise groups offering friendly and lively meetings in the area. With most groups you can visit a couple of times before you are required to join up. It is well worth visiting a few to see what is going to suit you best. Typically you can expect to pay around 50 per month plus breakfast if applicable. Meetings are not always weekly and you can pay as you go rather than commit for a year.

The Very Early Lunch Club (VELC) is held monthly and organised by the Best of Cambridge. It is held at Anglesey Abbey usually on the first Friday of the month and there can be up to 70 delegates. Proceedings include a hearty breakfast and there is a non member fee per session of 20. The format is something akin to speed dating for business with parties moving between tables and all presenting their 60 second elevator pitch. An upbeat meeting with a positive atmosphere.

4N Networking is a popular group with over 200 breakfast groups in the UK and 23,000 members. It is founded on a relaxed and informal style stated as 50% business and 50% social. Meetings are timed better for those not great early doors with fortnightly meetings starting at 8 to 10 am. A full years membership will cost you 563 but you can network up to 4 times a week. Breakfasts are charged at 10 per head.

The Cambridge network aims to link like minded people from both business and academia. It is aimed at the high technology community and events include open meetings, special interest groups and Cambridge Business lectures. Membership fees are based fairly on numbers of employees reported at Companies house with individual membership starting at 50 per year.

A range of womens networking groups are available for those that are selling into a feminine sector or feel more relaxed within a female environment. Cambridge Women, Enterprising Women, Cambridge Business Womens Network and Women in Rural Enterprise are all excellent opportunities for making good contacts.

My advice is to research the networking arena well before you sign up anywhere. At the very least each visit is another opportunity to meet people and exchange business cards. It is a tired adage but people do buy people. In this busy world we are more likely to turn to someone we have met than start looking for a supplier from a cold list.

Get out there and keep doing it. It is important to keep networking when times are good to avoid feast and famine.

Like other forms of marketing it is a numbers game. The more activity at the start of the process the greater the number of eventual sales.

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Posted in Transportation/Automotive Post Date 05/12/2017


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